As he prepares for the beginning of what he’s dubbed a “season of discovery,” Dennis Lindsey says he sees each basketball game as an “adventure,” each game providing relief in victory and great pain in defeat.
“Going through defeat,” he said, “is many times like going through a death.”
Well, Jazz fans, grab your nicest black apparel and handkerchiefs.
If the experts are to be believed, put the mortuary on speed dial.
And in lieu of flowers, please send Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or another high draft pick.
Vegas oddsmakers peg the Jazz as 150-to-1 long shots to win an NBA title. Online bookkeeper Bovada has set the line at 251/2 wins on the year.
Want to see where the Jazz are in the power rankings as they open the season Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder? Scroll down.
ESPN and Yahoo! both have Utah ranked as a bottom-five team to start the year.
The bleak outlooks haven’t gone unnoticed in the Jazz locker room.
“We read everything. We hear what people say about us,” said point guard John Lucas III. “It’s for us to go out there and prove them wrong.”
Lucas said the negative press “puts a fire” in players.
“You always want to shut critics up,” he said.
Lindsey, the Jazz’s general manager, doesn’t want to give his team excuses this year.
“Winning the possession, winning the quarter, winning the half, winning the game is always the goal,” he said. “At the end of the day you want to have players with competitive DNA.”
But after the Jazz allowed a cast of veteran players including Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams leave this summer in favor of developing a group talented young players, team officials are balancing optimism and realism as they embark on a rebuilding year.
“Realistically, with the decisions that we made, with the flexibility we decided to keep and parlay into next year … there are teams that are championship contenders right now that are going to be more short-term, there are teams that are playoff contenders like we were last year, and then you have teams like us that decided to press the reset button. The wins that we’re looking at are just going to be further away from us than maybe a championship contender.”
Even Jazz CEO Greg Miller, who called a Jazz losing streak “probably the most anxiety inducing thing I experience,” said he was willing to take some short-term knocks if it meant long-term success.
“I really get stressed out about [losing streaks],” he said. “Hopefully that won’t happen this season. But the players, the young players we have and the relative inexperience compared to some teams, chances are we will have some challenging periods this season. But that’s what builds character. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.
“I’m OK going through the pain as long as we get better.”
Third-year center Enes Kanter called it his “personal goal” to prove detractors wrong.
“People can say whatever they want,” he said. “People can rank [us 30th] in the league, we don’t really care. All they can do is talk. What we’re going to do is go out there and show them they’re wrong if they’re talking about bad [things].”
For now, the odds appear stacked against Utah. One ESPN projection system gives the Jazz just a 1.7 percent shot at making the playoffs this year.
But for many, there are positives no matter which way the Jazz go this year.
If the team does exceed expectations, it will mean the team’s young core is capable of success. And if the team struggles, it will mean Lindsey can add another high draft pick to a roster with the financial flexibility to make a splash in next summer’s free agent market.
“We knew that when we jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool there were going to be a lot of tough nights,” Lindsey said. “We’re going to take our medicine like men.”
He added, “I think we’ll be standing on sturdy ground when we come out of this.”
Thunder at Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m. TV • ROOT Sports
About the Jazz • After opening the preseason with a blowout win, the Jazz went on to lose seven straight exhibition games. … Swingman Gordon Hayward led the team in scoring during the postseason, averaging 15.9 points a night. … Injuries to key rotation players have hampered production from the team’s second unit. The Jazz will start the season with just 10 healthy players. … Veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley, a late addition to the team, is expected to be ready to play against the Thunder.
About the Thunder • One of the teams expected to compete for the Western Conference title, led by forward Kevin Durant. … OKC is missing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who is still rehabbing from an knee injury, but backup Reggie Jackson torched the Jazz for 18 points in preseason play.